Monday, 24 September 2018

It's government's use of data we should fear not the private sector's algorithms

There's data everywhere. Piles and piles of lovely data. Wherever you look there's more of the stuff - from what we've clicked, from where we've visited, from words we've used and, just occasionally, from what we've bought. And because vast dunes of this data have accumulated, clever computer folks have started to mine the data. With the result that bloggers, journalists and politicians begin to get fretful abut these algorithms.

Just a day or so ago Angela Phillips, a journalism professor from Goldsmiths was calling for "a new search engine based on public service ideas of what an algorithm should be" reminding us that people with tenured positions at respected universities really don't know what they're talking about. Professor Phillips said the idea would be mocked but that Labour should put it in their manifesto anyway. Which brings me to fennel:
The most significant item, the chief data officer told me—the one that gives you away as a responsible, house-proud person more than any other—was fresh fennel.
You see (or so this chief data officer from an unnamed insurance company would have it), buying fennel is a sure indicator you're a 'home cook' and home cooks are less likely to make insurance claims. Using this vital knowledge, we are now being cunningly manipulated by crafty chief data folk with their algorithms (wicked ones based on private sector ideas of course).

I'm reminded of one of my database marketing golden rules - do you know why those people want that information from you? If they're a business, the answer is easy - they want to flog you something (or flog the data to someone else who wants to flog you something). It's all very straightforward, honest and open - businesses use data to improve their business which is pretty much the least sinister thing you can do with data.

It's much harder to answer the question when it's the government (or one of its agencies) wanting the data. Sometimes there's a good answer - it's needed to deliver a service, for example - but mostly the reasons for the government wanting enormous warehouses of data about us is at best opaque and often quite sinister. Most commonly the rationale is about 'protection' (hence the reluctance of police services to dispose of DNA data from people when they conclude enquiries) but you'll also see arguments about 'developing better policy', 'planning' or even 'equalities'.

The arguments for building huge comprehensive data sets, however, are dominated by a belief that government is only possible these days with this sort of information about people. And the purpose isn't to make folks' lives better by selling them good things but rather to make it easier for government to control what you do (they call this regulation most of the time but sometimes it gets mixed up with taxation or a new-fangled control system call "nudge").

The end result (and remember that the British are the most surveilled, spied on and watched people in any democracy) looks like this:
But in 2020, when the citizen scoring system becomes mandatory, people with low scores stand to feel the repercussions in every aspect of their lives. The government’s own document on the system outlines examples of punishments that could be meted out to anyone deemed disobedient: “Restrictions on leaving the borders, restrictions on the purchase of… property, travelling on aircraft, on tourism and holidays or staying in star-ranked hotels.” It also warns that in the case of “gravely trust-breaking subjects,” it will “guide commercial banks… to limit their provision of loans, sales insurance, and other such services.” Loyalty is praised. Breaking trust is punished.
Your behaviour is scored, your activities are ranked against some sort of "socially acceptable" board and citizens are rewarded or punished on the basis of their conformity. This is, in case you missed the point, precisely what an algorithm based on "public service ideas" delivers because the purposes of government are (in origin with good reason) to control what we do, to protect us and to support us. Even when we think we don't need controlling, protecting or supporting. And it doesn't matter that the data is often fennel-like in its rubbishness.

It is because government's motives are unclear (and sometimes sinister) that we should resist their growing accumulation and exploitation of data, It for these reasons that the convenience of ID numbers and cards must be opposed. And it's for these reasons that the whipping up of sinister conspiracies by agents of government (just look at the nonsense about Cambridge Analytica, for example and the manner in which a (relatively) few Russian 'bots' caused such moral panic) should not be used to justify regulating the Internet.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A combination of fussbucketry, economic illiteracy and the denial of liberty - welcome to Conservative policy-making

Conservative policy-making is in a bit of a pickle. It's not that there isn't any thinking about policy just that the thinking seems rooted in focus groups, the received wisdom of government policy wonks and a seemingly obsessive desire to be liked. The best place to start in explaining this is a set of "principles" set out by centrist Tory think-tank, "Bright Blue". These principles purport to be an encapsulation of something called 'liberal conservatism'. Now, leaving aside the slightly oxymoronic nature of the tag (Americans would probably pop if they were faced with such an apparent contradiction), it seems that the nice folk of Bright Blue have confused having an activist state with 'liberalism' - here's a couple of examples:
We should be open-minded to new thinking, applying solutions to public policy problems on the basis of good ideas rather than tired ideology.
Markets are the best way of allocating resources, but they can be inefficient and inequitable, so government and social institutions can help correct market problems.
Both of these statements doubtless tick the box for bureaucrats and assorted inheritors of Blair's actualist ideal of "what matters is what works" but they are essentially illiberal and, to make matters worse, contradictory. Describing your positioning as 'liberal conservative' is a statement of ideology even if, like Blair did, you adopt a sort of rhetoric that denies ideology while promoting an approach that sees government intervention as central to policy. Bright Blue are ideological in the same way and it is likely that their policy proscriptions will involve the state intervening in the interactions of private individuals - the very antithesis of liberalism.

This illiberal position is underscored by the essentially anti-market stance of Bright Blue's "pro-market, not free-market". If you are a liberal then the free part of free market is the bit that matters - liberals should be making markets more free not believing that government can "correct" market problems. These contradictions and confusions can only result in similarly contradictory and confusing policy proposals. Indeed scrolling though the titles in Bright Blue's library, there is a sense that the environment and climate change, human rights and how capitalism is in some sort of crisis seem to dominate. I may be doing an injustice but I've a feeling that, while these things matter, they are not the basis for a cogent conservative position appealing to the wider electorate.

From this same camp - a sort of slightly squishy centrist world where policy gimmicks dominate - comes Onward, another conservative think tank. It's the brainchild of Neil O'Brien MP (who used to policy wonk for George Osborne when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer) and they are a step ahead of Bright Blue by looking at something that does seem to matter - housing. The problem is that, having identified the problem (there aren't enough houses), Onward sets out proposals that seem designed to make development less likely. After all the cost of land is a big chunk of the reason why we don't building enough houses where people want to live but nowhere in its proposals does Onward set out any way to reduce the cost of land. Instead O'Brien tells us that the high land values are a boon because we can tax them and use the money to build "vital" infrastructure (although it's not so vital that private-funded initiative delivers it).

In truth Onward and O'Brien are trying to square the circle of needing development while pretending this can be done without building on green belt sites. O'Brien also gets confused between landowner and developer (a common problem with the public but one a bright young MP who worked at the treasury shouldn't be making): "(a) thing that drives my constituents mad is the way that developers make a killing when they get planning permission..." says O'Brien when it isn't the developer who cleans up on the land value but the landowner who the housebuilder bought the land from. The only impact of infrastructure contributions, a sort of CIL on steroids, would be to make development more costly, more slow and, in a lot of locations, uneconomic.

Onward has the jump on Bright Blue making proposals that, while they are entirely counter-productive, at least reflect the fears and concerns of likely Conservative voters. The problem, however, is that Bright Blue and Onward assume that the resolution to policy challenges must lie in action by government - tax this, regulate that, control the other - and most commonly by central government. For all Bright Blue's talk of institutions, the only ones they seem to feel matter are the institutions of state - local, private and civil society institutions can be commissioned by the state to deliver policy, there is no sense that those institutions can do the business without requiring the direction of national government.

Policy development in this centrist Tory world seems to consist of manufacturing crisis and then setting out proposals to resolve the crisis, proposals that almost always require significant government intervention, new laws, new taxes and bans. Mark Wallace at Conservative Home, in what amounted to a cry of pain, described the current Conservative obsession with banning things and concluded:
"...meddling in people’s lives might temporarily satisfy some politicians’ itchy need to “do something”, or to paint themselves as go-getters, but the cumulative price is to paint the Government as increasingly dour, gloomy and authoritarian in both tone and policy. Some positivity, some joy, some creation of new opportunity and liberty would not go amiss."
I fear that this pain will be ignored - even attacked - by those developing policy for Conservatives. We are stuck in the world of "something must be done" with the finest example being the new "Obesity Strategy" filled with pettifogging fussbucketry like trying to get Sid's Caff on the A49 to count the calories in his full English breakfast. Even worse there's its pretence that somehow these proposals are based on evidence when they're just another list of nannying gimmicks from astroturf campaign groups like Action on Sugar - ban ads, force manufacturers to reformulate, stop offers like two-for-one, and ban sweets at the checkout. Plus taxes, more taxes and yet more taxes.

Yet, as I noted in criticising the New Puritan Left, the response from ministers when challenged on this is to say that we're doing it to protect the NHS - asked about the obesity strategy's fussbucketry by Phillip Davies, the current public health minister replied:
“This is a publicly funded health service that we all believe in and all love. If we want it to celebrate its 140th birthday, we need to protect it, and that means getting serious about prevention and stopping people coming into the service and getting sick."
The same lie as the left's new puritan nannies - the NHS is under strain and it's your fault because you're too fat, you drink to much and have too many bad habits. All followed up by proposals for bans, controls, taxes and regulations to make you change your bad behaviour. It's a lie - obesity isn't rising and NHS costs are going up because we've got better and better at staying alive. Everyone - even the NHS - knows this, ignores it and proposes a new bunch of nannying, fussbucketing interventions that amount to a nudging us with a baseball bat.

To close the loop here, the same goes for housing. Everyone knows that the problem is that we've spent 30 years or more not building the homes we need resulting in hugely over-valued housing, sky-high rents, homelessness and a resentful young generation. And we also know that the reason we've not built those houses is our planning system, a system that's now wholly-owned by NIMBYs and BANANAs. Yet nobody does anything beyond tinkering for fear of upsetting those (few) constituents who moan to Neil O'Brien about heavy vehicles delivering to development sites or (a loud handful of) campaigners fighting hard to protect a bunch of ugly buildings in a derelict airfield because 70 years ago some brave Americans flew bombers from that field.

There is almost nothing about current Conservative policy-making - whether in think tanks or inside the government - that gives me, as a conservative, any confidence. Our core values of localism, self-reliance, community, enterprise and liberty have been swamped by technocratic solutions based on questionable evidence devised by bright young things with barely the first idea about the communities those policies will affect. It's not just fussbucketry, although that drives me mad, but also the ignorance of basic business economics and the belief that freedom is somehow a 'nice-to-have' rather than something absolutely central to what we believe as conservatives. The next generation of policy will be set by these people and it will be a putrid combination of fussbucketry, economic illiteracy and the denial of liberty. It won't be conservatism.


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The New Puritan Left - fat, poor people must be stopped from eating so many burgers

Ban it! Tax it! For the children! Climate change! Obesity! Cancer! What about the animals!

Hardly a day passes by without the boundaries of fussbucketry being pushed a little further. It began with fags and (I speak as an ex-smoker here) it was hard to argue that smoking wasn't bad for our health. Or rather the heath of those people actually smoking. Now, however, the New Puritan, "ban all the good stuff" has reached into every corner of our lives with its relentless message about "health", "climate change" and "ethics".

In an edition featuring, in huge black type, the words "The Return of Fascism", the New Statesman lives up to its front cover with a spectacular piece of food fascism:
What does need addressing is the excessive consumption of this potentially carcinogenic product, which not only causes cancer and life-threatening illnesses, but is damaging our environment, antibiotic effectiveness, and the NHS.

Indeed, it is the excessive consumption of meat that we should be acting to reduce.

Consuming just 50g of processed meat (a hot dog, for example) a day raises the risk of developing bowel cancer by 18 per cent over a lifetime. With the average UK adult consuming 70g a day and one in four now obese, the burden of meat consumption on the NHS is real. More funding is needed.
In these few short sentences, the left's full embrace of a controlling fascistic agenda is captured - health, environment, government, NHS and obesity stirred together creating a toxic mixture of statist absolutism. And the solution, just as with booze and sugar, is to tax meat. Make it so those chubby working class people can only afford meat on special occasions (like it was in the old days) while telling them it's for their own moral and physical good.

There was a time when I'd engage with what the left laughingly call "the science" of all this but I now realise that this is just a a circle jerk of self-referencing literature produced mainly by sociologists, left-wing journalists and 'public health' organisations astroturfed by big pharma 'philanthropy'. Suffice it to say that telling people eating bacon gives a slightly increased risk of bowel cancer is fine, saying that eating a hot dog a day will doom you is hyberbolic nonsense. No-one denies that cow farts contribute to the world's production of greenhouse gases but it is simply a lie - a huge lie - to claim (on the back of deforestation not bovine flatulence) it's the second biggest source of those bad gases.

But enough of all this - it's not about science, it's about the ideology - nay, the cult - of health. Our collective obsession with how minor variations in diet might just be increasing our mortality risk. We've no real way of telling whether this is true or not since removing confounding factors from epidemiology is nigh on impossible, especially when it comes to diet. The cult, at least in the UK, has an ally in our health system - the cultists tell us it's our fault that the NHS is under pressure. We are too fat, too drunk, smoke too much and generally live such dissolute lives the poor, desperate nurses and doctors can't cope. It's rubbish, of course - it's still our fault but because we're living too damned long not because we're fat drunks with a smoking habit.

You're not going to die because you're eating meat. And neither is eating meat some sort of terrible, irresponsible and unethical idea despite this being what the cultists want you to think. Cows aren't destroying the planet - rice farming alone produces more greenhouse gas than the entirety of the world's livestock farming. And killing and eating other animals is an entirely normal, reasonable and ethical thing for humans to do (as, for that matter, is wearing their skins on our feet and our backs). I know there are some folk who've adopted some sort of self-denying, bunny-hugging philosophy and that's cool (and unhealthy), but they are not better people than us carnivores, they are not more ethical, and they're not saving the planet by doing so.

We - the meat-eaters - need to start challenging the health cultists, the vegans, the swivel-eyed environmentalists and the tin-pot little fascists in government departments churning out policy at the behest of these ghastly fussbuckets. And, in doing so, we need to start pulling apart the offensive idea that it's in any way ethical to use taxes as a sledgehammer to get people to change what they do. Not only are these taxes regressive - it's not well-paid newspaper journalists or academic sociologists who won't be able to afford the meat after you've taxed it, it's the poor. Just like minimum pricing for booze and the sugar tax, what we have is a sneering attack on the ordinary family. It's not grass-fed, wagyu steak that the fussbuckets hate, it's the burger (just look at the picture the New Statesman use), the hot dog and the bacon sarnie from the roadside caff at 5am on the way to lay concrete or clean out sewers.

It has become received wisdom among the great and good (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that the real problem facing our world is that people are living bad lives - we are all, in the eyes of the New Puritan Cult that has captured too much of our government, sinners against the twin gods of heath and the environment. Of course, the great and good don't speak of themselves here but of others, of the great unwashed majority who like cheap food, enjoy a drink and have the audacity to enjoy themselves in an manner not approved by those great and good. Calls for a tax on meat ("we don't want a ban" - the prohibitionists cry of old) represent the endeavour of a minority to impose their bigotry on the majority, the very definition of fascism: fat, poor people must be stopped from eating so may burgers.


Monday, 3 September 2018

Conservatives urging restrictive planning controls are planning their own demise

Liz Truss was right when she said that the Conservatives limpet-like attachment to uban containment policies would usher in a far left (and antisemitic) government:
In the early 2000s, there was only a weak connection between land-use restrictions and partisanship. Democratic places were only slightly more regulated than Republican ones. Interestingly enough, many towns that started out more Republican actually became more restrictive over time. This, for Sorens, is a key piece of evidence: “These data support the central claim of this paper: Democrats do not cause stricter zoning, but stricter zoning causes more Democrats (relative to Republicans),” he writes. In other words, when Republican towns increase land-use restrictions, they tend to drive away more Republicans.
I know this is the USA but the impact of urban containment policies is always to drive up land values (and rents and house prices) resulting in places where only the very rich and the poor can live. The less well off - especially the most marginalised such as immigrant groups, single parents and the disabled - live in social housing that is de facto reserved for such groups while the richest can afford the sky high prices and stratospheric rents. The most left-wing places in the USA are becoming, as a result of anti-development policies, the most segregated and most unequal.

As conservatives we should be pragmatic - if the result of such policies is the persistence of housing dependency for the less well off and, as reported recently, an explosion in wealth inequality as land values rocket then we should be looking for an answer that meets aspirations to own for as many as possible, that protects the poorest without enriching landlords and which doesn't featherbed the already rich. Right now, all we're getting is Onward proposing the extensive use of compulsory purchase to prevent landowners profiting from artificially expensive property as a result of those urban containment policies. Such an approach is little different from South African government seizing farms in the name of equality. Plus the, mostly left-wing run, councils in inner London will simply use the cash to shore up their client base through sustaining housing dependency.

Instead of allowing NIMBY residents on nice Surrey towns (and their MPs) to set the agenda, we should be doing was Liz Truss said and making it easier to develop in the city and easier to develop outside the city - if we don't we can expect to see the same happening to Conservative support in London as happened in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Hull.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

The politics of fudge and muddle (centrist politics and the pretence of evidence-based policy)

Tony Blair and his acolytes used the idea of political triangulation to create what they dubbed the "third way". This always brought to mind the old joke about the priest sternly imploring his congregation to "keep firmly to the narrow path between good and evil". The term comes originally from Dick Morris one of Bill Clinton's top campaign advisors:
“Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.”
This is, of course, good politics since whenever people are asked their position on a left-right political scale they mostly plump for somewhere near the middle - we all consider ourselves centrists and the other guys extremists. So camping out in a position deliberately distanced from both left and right makes for good political tactics.The question is, however, whether this approach makes for good policy or is merely an effective marketing strategy. There's also an issue when more than one campaign adopts the approach - the centre becomes crowded and the arguments become dominated by details rather than setting a vision.

The policy consequences of this approach tend to fall into two camps - technocratic fixes and populist, often media-driven interventions. In the former camp sit things like universal credit, HS2 and city-region devolution while the latter encompasses such ideas as banning the sale of energy drinks to children, fixing energy prices and charging 10p for plastic bags. Where this centrist ground is contested, the game becomes a battle between impressive sounding technical solutions to apparent problems and a shopping basket filled with gimmicky policies, "quick wins" as the campaign advisors like to call them.

Nowhere in all of this is there any room for even the most modest consideration of policy utility because what we're concerned with is not being painted as ideological or dogmatic. Instead we're encouraged to consider how the policy feels, how it will "play out" with one or other group of voters, not whether it will actually achieve the outcome desired. The ban on energy drinks enjoys popular support (as do most proposals founded on "won't someone think of the children") so it doesn't really matter whether such a ban has any positive health outcomes. The government has responded to popular concerns (or more accurately concerns that became popular because a high profile celebrity chef used his platform to make them popular) and this is enough.

This process repeats itself in every part of government, transport policy is driven by railway nostalgia, health policy by emotional attachment to "Our NHS", and education policy by a seemingly endless list of further things that children should be taught at school (on top of proper subjects like maths, English and science). Charities create moral panics over the environment (check out the absolute froth over plastic straws), children (see the Children's Society's latest "teenaged girls are under too much pressure" report) and public health (witness the anti-sugar campaigns from Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall). What links nearly all of this policy-making is that it's government "doing something" that matters not whether the outcome of that action is positive, or for that matter measurable.

Meanwhile the technocracy of bureaucracy, academia, third sector and consultancy excludes lay involvement other than in the form of 'consultation', a process designed either to produce corroboration of the expected technocratic solution or else to give the impression of taking note of what the people the policy is affecting might think about the matter. Every now and then (as we saw with the 'consultation' on the EU's Tobacco Products Directive) the technocracy comes clean by, in effect, saying that representation and input from ordinary people counts for less than responses from organisations linked to the technocrats.

All of this means that there is little clarity to political decisions, that those decisions are made on the basis of sentiment rather than evidence or outcomes, and that these sentiments are given credence by the misuse of social science. None of this means that sensibility is altogether a bad thing, we need to care, but it does mean that too many policies are just mushy virtue-signalling rather than robust, evidenced and effective. It is the politics of fudge and muddle presented to the public as "evidence-based policy-making". Moreover the policies don't work thereby requiring (in the eyes of the technocracy) more extensive, intrusive or comprehensive policies to meet the deficiencies of the earlier policy. At no point does anyone say, "enough of all this, let's start again at the beginning" since that would be an admission of error and bureaucracy does not err:
One of the operating principles of authorities is that the possibility of error is simply not taken into account. This principle is justified by the excellence of the entire organization and is also necessary if matters are to be discharged with the utmost rapidity. So Sordini couldn’t inquire in other departments, besides those departments wouldn’t have answered, since they would have noticed right away that he was investigating the possibility of an error.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

"He rides a motorbike, smokes a pipe, hates political correctness..."

So began a report in the local paper after my Dad (pretty much literally) sailed away from 37 years as a councillor in Beckenham. It made me smile as it makes him out to be a far more unconventional figure than, in truth, he was.

Anyhow, Dad died less than a month ago and I've been worrying away at the eulogy for his funeral mass next week. In one respect these things are easy - after all, we know our nearest and dearest pretty well - but what we want is a painting of the person in words not a Burgundian king list, so I try not to dwell on some sort of interminable chronology.

The paper back in 1995 called Dad a 'controversial' figure - probably because of his strict catholic views on things like gay marriage and preparedness not to mince his words when explaining those views. But in recognising this, the paper also spotted that Dad had done a lot in those 37 years and, as much as anyone I know, cared enormously about local government:
"Westminster appears to see town halls as nothing more than an instrument of national Government. I deplore this. When we get things right, as we usually do, Westminster claims the credit."
Having been a councillor for best part of 25 years, I concur - local government is by far the more effective and efficient part of Britain's political system and is blessedly free from the preening, purposeless self-importance of too many MPs and civil servants.

Anyhow, there's more to Dad but I won't parade it - just the opening list in my words:
Scout, square dancer, skier, sailor, walker, motor cyclist, tier of knots, erector of tents, outdoor cook, councillor, pipe smoker, beer maker, quoter of poetry, reader, sage, singer of camp fire songs.
Next week his family and friends will see Frank Cooke - my Dad - join Mum in her garden again. All I can say is thanks.


Friday, 24 August 2018

Can you salvage an unpopular brand (or "Maybe Bradford should Change its name?")

Polling company YouGov recently looked at how "well-liked" UK cities were, with the findings placing Bradford at the bottom on 23% and York at the top on 92%. Obviously, when local politicians in Bradford as asked their view the response is to attack the poll - "really annoying", "people haven't visited", "misleading" - rather than ask why it is that people have such a poor opinion of Bradford's brand. Nor does it help to say "Bradford is wonderful", babble on about "diversity" or list a load of attractions. We must shout louder is another favourite line, as if mere communications volume is sufficient to turn the UK's worst city brand into a winner.

All this raises an important question - can we turn round a really unpopular or damaged brand? There are always suggestions out there including:

Listen to what consumers are saying

Engage with what they say even if it hurts

Seek out the most negative and talk with them

Shooting the messenger - what my colleagues are doing by attacking YouGov's poll - merely reinforces the problem. We also seek out only those people who have positive things to say, surrounding ourselves with a protective bubble of that positivity. It feels good but gets nowhere near the job at hand of fixing the brand's problems. And, let's remember too, that brands are defined by the interaction between the consumer and the identity not just by the spin we create around that identity.

A more constructive response to YouGov's work would have been to go talk to them about the polling, perhaps even commission them to dig a little deeper into why people don't like Bradford (or taking on board that most won't have been here, don't like the idea of Bradford). Anecdotally, we all know that many residents in large parts of what makes up the Bradford district would really rather they weren't lumped in with that city. This is, after all, why we don't describe ourselves as a "city", choosing instead the less grand word "district" - the only UK city hiding its light under a bushel in this way. Most of us have witnessed (or even done it ourselves) people going through convoluted locational descriptions - "near Leeds", "Aire Valley", "just off the M62" and so forth - to avoid using the "B" word. I've a tendency to say "the next village to Haworth" as a short description of Cullingworth's place in the world.

What happens right now is a focus on what us marketers would call features, a sort of "hey look at all these things we've got, how can you not love us!" The problem is that - as the poll showed - people don't love us even though we've got City Park, The Alhambra, Science and Media Museum, and St George's Hall. Nor does the prospect of the Rugby League Museum, the refurbished Odeon and a new market add anything to this love. People's perception of a place are not a function of its features but reflect the interaction between those features (and others like idiot young men driving too fast) and the consumer.

I wrote recently, drawing on the work of American urbanist, Aaron Renn, about how Bradford needed an unique selling point suggesting that, for the old City, this USP is the Asian community - instead to trying to ape other cities through shiny regeneration projects (that mostly don't work) maybe we should set out our stall as the capital of Asian Britain. But to do this we would need to deal with the problem that half the district will hate this idea - they'd either have to lump it or else we'd need to find a parallel positioning that reflected these (in the main more successful) parts of the City.

The thing that connects Haworth, Queensbury, Bingley, Ilkley and villages like Cullingworth isn't that we're all in the Bradford "district" but that we're all in the South Pennines - Yorkshire's South Pennines. No-one owns that positioning and it allows us, instead of pretending that calling Haworth, Ilkley and Bingley 'Bradford' is any kind of help, to create an uniqueness for these places and it doesn't matter really if some of this leaks over into Calderdale or Skipton.

We have in 'Bradford' a broken brand that we've then dumped on a load of places that have so much to offer - Haworth, Ilkley, Saltaire - resulting in them losing impact because of the association with a city brand that is not liked. Given the realities - for all the "look at all the things we've got" rhetoric - it seems likely that association with Bradford will act only to harm those strong South Pennine brands. The options are to have two brands - "Bradford: Capital of Asian Britain" and "Yorkshire's South Pennines", to split the district into the City and the District, Bradford and South Pennine Yorkshire, or to focus on the positive and drop the name Bradford.

South Pennines* Metropolitan District Council anyone?


*Update: For those who think the South Pennines are in Derbyshire, here's a link to a funky map from Chris Sands. 

*And OS 021 South Pennines